Experts from Synopsys, Imagination Technologies, and Silicon Labs expand on what they saw at CES 2015 and what it means for hardware and software IP subsystem designers.
by Hamilton Carter, Senior Editor
The shorter market windows associated with burgeoning IoT and entertainment product offerings are creating new challenges for hardware and software IP designers alike. We spoke with Eric Huang, Senior Product Marketing Manager, USB IP, Synopsys; Greg Fyke, Marketing Director, IoT Wireless Products, Silicon Labs; and Andrew Thompson, VP of Strategic Marketing, Imagination Technologies. The questions posed to eveyrone were:
- How do the products you saw at CES exemplify the challenges facing IP subsystem designers?
- What role will software IP play in the future?
What follows is a portion of their responses—HC
At CES 2015 we saw trends across key markets such as 4K TV going mainstream, increasing interest in 8K, and a move to studio quality audio and video – in addition to IoT and wearables. For emerging areas like these, speed to market seems to be more important than ever, which means that platforms or subsystems are critical.
Designers need to know that their IP blocks all work together and ideally are already optimized for a specific application. For customers trying to address even one of these markets, this presents clear challenges. Take TV as an example, where the top three manufacturers are all focused on different operating systems and ecosystems. So even just focusing on that one market is a huge task. Wearables are another area where we see devices with similar functionalities, but a huge variety of different needs. The way we’re addressing this is with platforms which customers can customize for their specific application and add their own unique flavor.
Increasing time-to-market demands mean that IP providers need to provide more of a turnkey platform. This means we continue to push ever further up the stack to speed time to market for our customers. We see an increasing role as an IP provider with things like audio and video codecs, including basic porting and some tuning and optimizations for customers’ platforms. In the past, IP providers might have just provided hardware IP, basic drivers and tools, but this is changing as customers and their OEM customers feel ever increasing pressure. By creating our own value-added software IP and working to optimize software for our customers’ devices, customers and OEMs know that the solution will work well on our hardware.
Synopsys’ Eric Huang pointed out that reusable bus IP helped to ameliorate some of the challenges faced by the designers of the products exhibited at CES. He said, “Companies don’t have to spend time struggling to build and debug USB, PCIe, DDR, MIPI or other technologies. They can focus on making the newest wireless IoT or automotive applications both useful and easy to use for consumers.”
Eric also stated that one of the biggest challenges facing software IP development was the lag time between producing testable code and availability of the application platform to test it on. He further commented that the challenge could be addressed, however, through the use of virtual development kits, and FPGA based prototyping technology: “This means software developers can start developing not just drivers, but applications and their enhancements months and months before hardware is available.”
During CES, Silicon Labs demonstrated the IP mesh networking capabilities of Thread software to help customers to future-proof their connected device designs. According to the Thread website: “Thread Group is creating [a] simple, secure and low-power network for the home and its connected products. With Thread, product developers and consumers can easily and securely connect more than 250 devices into a low-power, wireless mesh network that also includes direct Internet and cloud access for every device.”
IP is a unifying force for IoT connected devices. Thread software will emerge as the leading solution for IP-based mesh networking in the connected home and other IoT applications. The IoT ultimately will coalesce around Wi-Fi (including low-power Wi-Fi versions) for high-bandwidth connectivity, Bluetooth Smart for body-area networks and Thread protocol for IP mesh networking, and this connectivity will be seamless for the consumer, much like wireless connectivity (3G/4G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) in smartphones is today. As the industry converges around IP software and a set of wireless standards, we will be able to add connected devices to IoT networks seamlessly. This time next year, we will look back and recognize that IP connectivity is clearly the answer for the IoT. Instead of arguing about ZigBee versus Z-Wave, the pressing challenge for our industry is how quickly we can migrate wireless connectivity for the IoT to standards-based IP technology. We are now at a stage in the IoT market when if enough of the “big guys” move in one direction, the rest of the market will follow. In 2015, will see major technology providers move to IP software, and everyone else will fall into line.